The crowd cheered and whistled. Some rattled their beer mugs against the fence.
Two men stepped up onto the stage and entered the cage. One was wearing a red hoodie with matching trunks and the other was wearing a dark blue version of the same outfit. They both had their hoods over their heads so I couldn’t see their faces, but their sweaters were partially open and I could snag a peek at their torsos. And what a peek it was. From the teasingly little I could see, it was clear each had ripped abs and sculpted pecs like they were carved by a sculptor. The one in blue particularly caught my attention. He was bouncing on his toes and shaking his arms to stay loose and to keep himself warmed up for the fight. Each bounce sent ripples through his hard muscles, which in turn made my own heart bounce. A surge of desire through my body made me realize how affected I was just by the sight of him. I was unwittingly reminded of Tattoos and Muscles, except I couldn’t tell if this guy had any tattoos underneath his hoodie. Tim had a gorgeous bod but I don’t think he could compete with blue trunks.
“On my left, standing at six feet, two inches and weighing in at two hundred pounds of pure, raw muscle. Don’t let his friendly face fool you, he’ll squeeze the life out of you if he gets you in his hold. We’ve got Abram ‘Mr. Hyde’ Wallace!”
The crowd cheered for the man in red trunks. Abram hopped around, shadow-boxing the air, displaying his quick fists and dexterous footwork. I squinted, trying to get a view of his face but I couldn’t see much beneath the hood. I could see his smile though; it was wide and showcased neat rows of white teeth, which made it seem like he was just happy to be here.
“And on my right, standing also at a height of six feet, two inches and weighing two hundred and five pounds with fists of steel, it’s your defending champion, Hunter ‘The Hammer’ Jensen!”
The crowd erupted once again but louder than they did for Abram. I heard a girl cry out, “I love you Hunter!”
Hunter didn’t make as much of a show as Abram. He simply continued shaking out his limbs and bouncing on his toes. Although his head was down seemingly in deep focus, he seemed to be soaking in the cheers, absorbing the crowd’s energy to channel later in the fight.
“It’s exciting isn’t it?” a male voice said next to me.
I turned to see a tall guy around my age with a smooth head standing beside me. He had hard, chiseled features that complemented the defined muscles stretching against his t-shirt and jeans. I wasn’t really a fan of bald guys, but this dude was quite attractive. A quick scan of his build and I wondered why he wasn’t in the cage himself. He had a smile on his face that looked friendly.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen this before,” I responded. “What kind of fighting is this?”
He chuckled. “So you’re not a devoted fan of Hunter, apparently. It’s mixed martial arts. Punching, kicking, wrestling—pretty much anything goes except for biting, crotch shots, and eye gouging.”
I narrowed my eyes. “That sounds brutal.”
“It’s exciting to watch for sure. And it’s not too bad for the fighters when it comes to safety. Probably no more dangerous than playing professional football or doing boxing. I’d even say it’s safer than boxing.”
Curious, I asked, “How can it be safer when you can do much more than punching?”
He shrugged. “Some fighters win through holds and submissions. Usually the guy in the submission just taps out before he gets really hurt.” He pointed to red trunks. “Abram’s strength is in his submissions; he has a wrestling background. As for striking—” He pointed to blue trunks. “Hunter’s strength is his stand-up game. He throws a mean punch, which is why he earned the name ‘The Hammer’. But the refs tend to stop matches before fighters get seriously hurt. There’s no ten count that allows a fighter to get back up and continue fighting again after a mild concussion. Once someone goes down after a good punch, the ref pretty much always ends the fight.”
“Wow, you know a lot about this.”
He grinned. “Name’s Gary.” He extended his large hand.
I took it and he shook firmly. “Lorrie.”
His grin widened. “Well Lorrie, all I got to say is you’re in for a treat if this is your first time watching this.”
“Is this like a sanctioned event or something? Why are they having a mixed martial arts fight at this bar?”
“It’s sponsored by the Bearded Squirrel. As far as being sanctioned . . .” He shrugged. “Let’s just say it’s semi-legal. Legal enough—and good enough for business—that they’re willing to take the risk.”
The announcer stepped out of the cage and a man in a light blue button-down and black pants entered. Judging by his formal attire, he was the referee. He stepped into the center, rolled up his sleeves and pointed to his left.
“Red corner, are you ready?” he shouted.
Abram peeled back his hood and removed his sweatshirt, throwing it over the cage to his coach. He tilted his chin up, beat his fist against his chest, and nodded. He had neatly combed brown hair parted on the side and a soft face with a wide nose. He reminded me of Mr. Rogers from the kid’s show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood—except this version of Mr. Rogers was on steroids and too big to fit in sweaters.
“Blue corner are you ready?”
Hunter removed his hood then slid the sweater off his massive arms and threw it over the cage. That’s when I saw his face; and the tats around the side of his chest and neck.
My heart stopped.
He was Tattoos and Muscles.
I heard women screaming Hunter’s name and one or two of them shouting for him to marry them. He didn’t seem to notice, rather his focus was solely on the opponent before him. The hammer I’d painstakingly drawn in my sketchbook was etched on the side of his arm. There was no mistaking it. I’d finally found out his name.
I watched anxiously as both men stepped forward and approached one another.
The referee addressed each fighter. “I want a clean fight, you know the rules. No crotch shots, eye gouging, or anything dirty. If you do, I’ll have you disqualified. Are we clear?”
Each fighter nodded.
Abram and Hunter tapped gloves then each took a step back. The referee slashed his arm between them like a knife cutting palpable tension. A silence fell on the crowd.
I looked at Gary who had wide eyes and a grin on his face. He seemed pumped to see the action start.